John le Carré on Both Sides of the Pond

I saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy around this time last year, at the end of September. Not the Alec Guinness miniseries, which I have yet to watch, but the Tomas Alfredson film, the Gary Oldman one. I saw it in England. My aunt and uncle were driving my boyfriend and me back to their house in North London, from a day in Kent with my grandmother and my cousins who were several feet taller than when I last saw them. There had been a muddy walk in the woods, and the dogs were tired and smelly in the backseat. The day had been filled with weak tea. We were jet-lagged and flagging, but eager to see and do things, so we decided giddily that we wanted to go to the movies. My aunt dropped us off at the nearest Odeon, somewhere in East Finchley. I’ll be the first to tell you that I have a sense of direction worthy of your awe, but I really didn’t know how to get back to their house from there, in spite of their advice to take this bus, or go down that way until you get to the one school for the deaf, or something. I didn’t tell my boyfriend this. Arrogantly I thought I could figure it out.

Going to movies in England is one of my pure joys. You can have beer, for one thing, and the candy is ten times better than what we get in the United States. All kinds of chocolates, gummies, and, at this place in North London, organic stuff I didn’t want to touch. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is both perfect and hopeless for this situation. On the one hand, it’s a gorgeous film to watch: a lot of scenery to chew, a strange and romantic color palette, Gary Oldman’s eyes. It’s candy for an anglophile, ecstasy for a 70s fetishist. The first scene, for instance, is black for several seconds until a door opens on John Hurt’s magnificent face, as if to say, Ah! This kind of royalty. There’s also John le Carré’s spy dialogue, which is the platonic ideal, all of it said with the gravitas and profundity that John Hurt and Toby Jones and Gary Oldman bring to things.

Oh, right. And there’s Gary Oldman. I could write thousands of words about Gary Oldman.

On the other hand though, there are huge, couch-like seats in Odeon theaters, and the whole thing was right for a nap. Nap is what I did. I woke up somewhere at the end, when the big reveal happens, and I vapidly enjoyed the sequence with Julio Iglesias’ “La Mer,” all the while cursing at myself and hoping no one noticed.

We wandered for a while in the dark after the movie, me leading the way and panicking inwardly about getting home, both of us woozy and ultimately stumbling into a pub with an Irish bar band. We somehow ended up in my aunt and uncle’s kitchen, talking to my cousin about the film. He had seen it too, and we all agreed that it was “very good” but “quite confusing.” At any rate, it was better than the movie we would watch together a few days later: something awful with Bill Nighy and Rachel Weisz that made my aunt roll her eyes demonstratively every few minutes. That movie was also about British intelligence, but it wasn’t nearly as masterful, as fun, as perfectly contained. It also included lots of rueful dialogue about “the Americans,” which brings to mind a lot of mustache-twirling and is at a minimum or non-existent (but who can tell when they’ve dozed off in the middle) in Tinker Tailor. If you want a superior British spy movie, go via le Carré, clearly.

The movie’s playing at BAM a week from tomorrow, as part of a le Carré retrospective. I’m going to have an espresso before I go, just to be sure.

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